Chromatic Academy | History


This is due to three factors. Firstly, the harp had, during most of its history, shared the tablature and repertoire of the guitar, playing mainly transcriptions of music from other sources. This music became increasingly more appropriate to the guitar as Spanish music developed .The liturgical use of the instrument similarly declined with the increased interest in the pipe organ, which was capable of producing the volume of sound the Spanish so yearned for. As well as this there is the devastating impact of movie-land’s favourite castrati Farinelli, who became the darling of the rather dissolute and sybaritic Phillip V, just at this time. He had no taste for things Spanish, and influenced the king towards things Italian instead. The consequences of this was the replacement of Spanish opera with Italian, and the arrival in Madrid, via Lisbon, of the redoubtable Domenico Scarlatti, who brought with him the harpsichord- the one instrument capable of making the cross-strung harp obsolete. Finally, and most sinister of all is the destruction of the cross-strung harps by the French soldiers during the brutal Napoleonic Iberian Peninsula campaign.

This conflict, vividly captured by Goya in his series of etchings, the Follies of War, and where the term guerilla, meaning “little warriors”, was originally coined, was waged by the invading soldiers against the civilian population, and amounted to deliberate cultural genocide, in just the same way Oliver Cromwell, the most wicked man in English history, had attempted when he destroyed all of the harps of Ireland. As a result, the Spanish cross-strung fell into almost total oblivion. Ironically, the only known surviving double harp in Spain was housed in the National Museum in Madrid until 1936, in which year it disappeared, another victim of the Spanish Civil War. Since then, a very small number of these harps has been discovered, most well preserved being one with the luthier’s name Wandella and the other with the luthier’s name Francesco de Leon. Neither bears any indication of its date.

The modern revival of the Spanish instrument and its repertoire, is largely the work of English virtuoso Andrew Lawrence-King and the German harpist and scholar Astrid Nielsch. But the story does not end there. Next to enter the narrative is Hector Berlioz. In the first half of the nineteenth century, with Romanticism sweeping Europe, Berlioz introduced a new and startling music- chromaticism, designed to deepen the emotional expression and extend the complexity of harmonic and melodic form. He was fast followed by Listz and Chopin, all three composers together giving the Parisian aesthetic a distinct taste for chromatic music. It found special favour amongst theatre composers (opera and ballet), especially after the music of Wagner hit the scene. In response to this demand for chromatic instruments more flexible than the existing single-action pedal harps, which like the lever harp was capable only of changing the pitch a single semi-tone, the harp-builders of Paris came up with two solutions. The first and most enduring was the invention by M. Errard of the double-action pedal harp.The second was the development of the cross-strung chromatic harp by M. Pleyel of the piano building firm Pleyel and Wolff. M. Pleyel had built his earliest chromatic harp in the 1840’s, being by trade a piano builder, lke Alphonse Pape, another Parisian luthier experimenting with the chromatic harp. These instruments attracted some attention and many harpists, particularly those in the theatres, gave the instrument a go. 

Read 27473 times Last modified on Tuesday, 13 September 2016 09:50